In the past few years, we have seen 3D printing helping medical procedures and surgeries around the world. Based on CT scans, printed bones to organs such as hearts have all been made to assist physicians. It can be applied to just about any medical field and Dr. Ivar Mendez, head of surgery at the University of Saskatchewan, proved that by 3D printing a brain replica for a complex deep brain stimulation procedure.
The procedure involves opening the skull and inserting electrodes into toe brain folds and a small error can do permanent damage. So Dr. Mendez always carefully prepares using computer simulations, but this time the technology failed him. The limitations of the software became apparent as it could not predict how the tissue would react. That’ why the Canadian physician contacted the University’s school of engineering and assembled a team of experts: engineers, a radiologist, MRI specialists and neuropsychologists. All with the purpose of translating complex brain MRI data into 3D printable files.
After about seven months of work, they 3D printed an initial prototype in rubber, but that didn’t accurately display the necessary smaller features. Just now, Mendez and his team completed a larger, more detailed model he can work with. ‘You can actually do the surgery. You can actually put the needle in the brain,’ he said of the surgical model. ‘You can get really lost, because you really don’t know. But when you have the model it lets you see exactly where you want to go,’ he adds. 3D printed in transparent synthetic rubber, this brain replica even matches the consistency of an actual brain.